Lithuanian Memory Culture: Imaginary Communities and Memory Wars

Keywords: memory, history, imaginary community, exile, memory wars


The article offers a brief introduction to memory studies and the concept of collective memory with emphasis on the significance of this phenomenon, which coincided with discoveries in the humanities and deepened and expanded the spectrum of national cultures. The radical ideas of the Age of Enlightenment sparked self-reflection of nations and creation of imagined communities that eventually turned people into nations. New concepts of political coexistence, equality, freedom, and the distinctiveness and historical value of the national language and literature were published and made known to Lithuanians. The article dwells on the tsarist and Soviet Russian occupation policies on memory and national identity, modes of rewriting memory, the consequences of nearly two centuries of memory wars, the emigration situation, and the coexistence of the imagined communities. These imagined communities played a crucial role in constructing the nations and preparing them for independence. There were two imagined communities in the nineteenth century – the Lithuanian-speaking Lithuanians and the Polish-speaking Lithuanians who considered themselves Lithuanians, and two such communities in the twentieth century – the Lithuanians living in exile and the imaginary community remaining in Soviet Lithuania. It is such recurring patterns of society and recurring plots of events in memory preservation and memory wars that are discussed in the article. Upon the return of freedom of the press and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lithuanians discovered numerous unknown lands in the form of their culture that had been banned before. However, memory studies show that long-standing propaganda, press bans, and the rewriting of memory have not gone without consequences. The Great War and the struggles for independence that resulted in independence in 1918 remained in the margins of remembrance, although those events enabled the surge of national culture during the interwar period. The historical context of Central and Eastern Europe helps to see a broader panorama of common and relevant processes and to highlight the specifics of the Lithuanian situation, concluding that memory wars continue and deliberating whether memory culture can influence future prospects.